"Great quarterbacks have come in a lot of different packages," says Laufenberg. "Dan Fouts will probably go down as one of the best ever, and probably 80% of the quarterbacks in the league today have stronger arms than he had. Fran Tarkenton was 5'10"; Joe Theismann was six feet. Jim Plunkett was 36 years old and had no mobility, and he got to a Super Bowl. It doesn't matter what route you take, as long as you get there. Money's money, you know?"
And $15 million is quite a sum to pay a couple of fresh-faced quarterbacks. As Jones sees it, however, signing Aikman was as important for p.r. as for TDs. Average attendance fell to a 24-year low at Texas Stadium last season, when Dallas finished 3-13, the worst record in the league. "Troy Aikman helps restore the Cowboy image," says Jones. "He's got this winning aura. I can't help smiling when he so much as jogs from one practice field to the other." To say nothing of the jog from the dressing room to the showers.
Dallas's image will be further polished by the presence of a Shula on the staff. David Shula, who had been in charge of the Dolphins' passing game for the last five years, will call the plays for the Cowboys. David was said to have had a tense relationship with Dolphin quarterback Dan Marino, whose name has been on the lips of many Dallas fans this summer.
That's because they hope either Aikman or Walsh will become the next Marino—the last NFL quarterback to thrive as a rookie, in 1983. Both Walsh and Aikman will almost certainly enjoy long and distinguished pro careers—"just not on the same team," as Walsh says. But the odds are stacked against either of them excelling this season. For various reasons, including the multitudes of defenses they now face and the complexity of their own playbooks, quarterbacks struggle as rookies.
Furthermore, as Shula points out, "Dan had a better surrounding cast [than Aikman or Walsh will]. That Dolphin team had just gone to a Super Bowl (after the '82 season]. These guys were 3-13 last year." In particular, Marino had a better offensive line to keep hostiles away from his young body. Cowboy quarterbacks were sacked 35 times in 1988 and twice on Sunday.
"We'd like to have an experienced, mature NFL quarterback, but we don't have that luxury," says Johnson, neglecting to mention that he is largely responsible for that void. White retired, at the club's urging, in July, and the most conspicuous no-show in camp has been last year's starter. Steve Pelluer, who's currently unsigned and seeking to double his former salary of $302,000. His absence seems to have cost Johnson little sleep. Pelluer piloted the Cowboys to a dreadful 8-19 record in 27 starts (although he was by no means solely to blame for all those losses). Also, Johnson resents Pelluer's request "to be paid like a starter even if he doesn't earn the starting job."
Pelluer can read the writing on the wall better than he can read opposing defenses. After watching JJ draft two of the top quarterbacks in the country, he asked to be traded. Pelluer's absence has left Dallas with Laufenberg, who joined the team as a free agent this year, and the young guns.
To help the players learn a new system—and to help Aikman get in some extra work—Johnson created a three-week "voluntary quarterback school," in addition to the three minicamps the club conducted in the off-season. To Johnson, spoiling a few summer vacations was a small price to pay for returning the franchise to glory, but the players weren't exactly thrilled.
Voluntary quarterback school was a double misnomer because, first, it was for everyone, not just quarterbacks, and second. Johnson made it clear that those who didn't attend would have tenuous futures with the organization. Defensive end Kevin Brooks and Pelluer decided to skip quarterback school. Brooks found himself traded to the Broncos. Pelluer will probably never play for the Cowboys again.
On July 10, the first day of the team's second minicamp, Johnson had the squad run 16 110-yard sprints. To a track and field athlete, that's a moderate workout. To an NFL interior lineman, it's an invitation to hyperventilate. After 10, one player was down, gasping, "Coach, I got asthma."